Norm Herr Champions Science Education and Technology
By Dr. Cynthia Desrochers, InnovatED Editor
Our Dr. Herr surpasses the norm; he is teacher, author, principal investigator, colleague, mentor, and collaborator. A professor in the Department of Secondary Education, Norm enjoys teaching four classes each semester—within the credential, master's, and Ed.D. programs—and has never taken a sabbatical because, he says, I don't need a rest from teaching; it is something I love doing. Having joined the faculty in 1986, Dr. Herr has been a professor of science and computer education for 27 years. It would be impossible to share the breadth and depth of his professional contributions, as well as his personal impact in this brief tribute, so readers are invited to learn more about Norm at normherr.com and csunscience/herr. The focus of this article will be on his current projects, his lessons learned, and one of his numerous scientific and humanitarian contributions to society.
In addition to directing the master's cohort in science education and coordinating the single-subject science credential candidates' student teaching, Dr. Herr is the principal investigator of the Computer Supported Collaborative Science project, which he describes as a whole new pedagogy. Computer Supported Collaborative Science (CSCS) is a teaching methodology that uses collaborative web-based resources to engage all learners in the collection, analysis, and interpretation of individual data in the context of whole-class data. CSCS fosters scientific inquiry by using collaborative online resources to assess prior knowledge, collect and analyze student ideas, data, and comments, and provides instructors the opportunity to perform continuous formative assessments to inform and reform their own instruction. CSCS turns hands-on classroom activities into more authentic scientific experiences -- shifting the focus from cookbook data collection to thoughtful data analysis.
Dr. Herr is also currently working to develop the Institute for STEM Education at CSUN, which will include Secondary and Elementary Education, as well as the departments of Chemistry, Physics, Biology, and Geology. The purpose of the Institute for STEM Education is to advance learning, teaching, scholarship, research, service, and creative activity in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education through partnerships with schools, community colleges, business, industry, government, and social agencies.
When asked to reflect upon points memorable and lessons learned throughout his career, these two categories overlapped. Most memorable include working with his students—especially on ecology and astronomy fieldtrips—and working with his colleagues. His lessons learned involve:
- Collaborating with colleagues
- Writing grants
- Sustaining innovations
Dr. Herr recognizes the importance of collaboration, having written his first two books with Dr. Jim Cunningham (CSUN Emeritus Professor of Science Education), entitled Hands-on Physics with Real Life Applications and Hands-on Chemistry with Real Life Applications http://www.csun.edu/science/herr/. Norm states:
In true collaboration you can do more than would be
possible individually by dividing up the labor.
Moreover, collaboration has additional benefits, which include bouncing off ideas, gaining insights, and motivating one another. He adds that it is crucial to collaborate with faculty external to the Eisner College who are in your subject specialty, which in Norm's case means the science education faculty in the disciplines.
Dr. Herr's next lesson learned, which can be interpreted as good advice for others, is to apply only for grants that are consistent with your true interests, ones where your own goals are fulfilled. Given Norm's wide range of interests, it is no surprise that he has served as principal or co-investigator for 66 grants, with a combined award of over $4.3 million.
Lastly, Dr. Herr stresses that when it comes to innovation—which is something he knows a great deal about, having developed many technological firsts for our College (e.g., computer labs, websites, a smart classroom)— sustainability is key. We must take steps to consciously institutionalize our innovations if they are to be useful in the future. Norm suggests the following to achieve this:
- Encourage a critical mass of faculty to participate in your innovation so that they can carry it forward.
- Mentor new colleagues in the use of the innovation.
- Develop a deliverable associated with the innovation so it can be shared to provide continual development of others.
- Meet socially with your colleagues.
Norm earnestly follows his own advice on this last point, having shared a weekly lunch date with his science colleagues for the last seven years.
A Water System for Uganda
Dr. Norm Herr and village children in Kayanja, Uganda, 2011
A little over two years ago, Dr. Herr commissioned a clean-water project in the rural village of Kayanja, Uganda, population about 2000. Since the project's completion, Norm has received numerous reports of significant drops in incidences of water-borne diseases in this village. This project was a fitting humanitarian memorial to Norm's beloved wife, Roberta Herr.